“42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.” – Steven Wright

11 May


An Infographic Best Practice
I don’t hate infographics. Honest. I hate BAD infographics. And I hate them BAD. Here’s one that wouldn’t be so bad, except that it violates one of Webster’s Cardinal Rules—list the damn sample base somewhere. When I saw this infographic here, I immediately questioned the stat. There’s NO WAY 47% of any kind of general population sample own a tablet—that’s higher than smartphone ownership! In our most recent representative study of Americans 12+, we recorded tablet ownership at 17% (with 12% for the iPad alone.) So my radar on this one immediately started pinging.
When stats like this one raise my hackles, I immediately do what you should do—find the original study, download it, and make sure you know the fine print. In the case of this infographic, there were only three possibilities: the number is from some subset of the general public (but not the general public), convenience sampling, or crappy sampling. In this case, as in most cases, it wasn’t crappy sampling, but a combination of the other two options. As I often say in this space, there is value in almost any kind of data, as long as you know who was asked, and how they were asked.
In the report from which this graphic originated, there is a caption to this graphic that is not seen on the website or indeed anywhere else that published this image: the sample for this was smartphone owners. So, right off the bat, it isn’t 47% of “people” that own a tablet, it’s 47% of the 44% of Americans who own smartphones who also own a tablet. That’s the “subset” part. The convenience sampling part is this—the sample was obtained from the database of JiWire users, which probably lean slightly more towards the early adopter end of the spectrum than your smartphone-owning Aunt Ethel.
So, taking those two things into account, I totally believe this number in its context—in other words, I completely buy that nearly half of JiWire-using smartphone owners also own a tablet. Now I know what to do with this stat. But every time infographics like this are released without any kind of information on the provenance of the data or the sample, a unicorn gores a puppy. Right there, in the fine print next to “Source,” put the sample base. Save a puppy.


An Infographic Best Practice

I don’t hate infographics. Honest. I hate BAD infographics. And I hate them BAD. Here’s one that wouldn’t be so bad, except that it violates one of Webster’s Cardinal Rules—list the damn sample base somewhere. When I saw this infographic here, I immediately questioned the stat. There’s NO WAY 47% of any kind of general population sample own a tablet—that’s higher than smartphone ownership! In our most recent representative study of Americans 12+, we recorded tablet ownership at 17% (with 12% for the iPad alone.) So my radar on this one immediately started pinging.

When stats like this one raise my hackles, I immediately do what you should do—find the original study, download it, and make sure you know the fine print. In the case of this infographic, there were only three possibilities: the number is from some subset of the general public (but not the general public), convenience sampling, or crappy sampling. In this case, as in most cases, it wasn’t crappy sampling, but a combination of the other two options. As I often say in this space, there is value in almost any kind of data, as long as you know who was asked, and how they were asked.

In the report from which this graphic originated, there is a caption to this graphic that is not seen on the website or indeed anywhere else that published this image: the sample for this was smartphone owners. So, right off the bat, it isn’t 47% of “people” that own a tablet, it’s 47% of the 44% of Americans who own smartphones who also own a tablet. That’s the “subset” part. The convenience sampling part is this—the sample was obtained from the database of JiWire users, which probably lean slightly more towards the early adopter end of the spectrum than your smartphone-owning Aunt Ethel.

So, taking those two things into account, I totally believe this number in its context—in other words, I completely buy that nearly half of JiWire-using smartphone owners also own a tablet. Now I know what to do with this stat. But every time infographics like this are released without any kind of information on the provenance of the data or the sample, a unicorn gores a puppy. Right there, in the fine print next to “Source,” put the sample base. Save a puppy.